Hacknet Review – 1337 Hacking Simulator

hacknet-logo Words are not enough to describe how good of a game Hacknet is. The script-kiddie simulator from developer Team Fractal Alligator sees the player running a dedicated penetration testing (*cough*hacking*cough*) suite called HacknetOS as they break into a world of computer systems while investigating the disappearance of a fellow hacker. Since its release, fans have been calling it better than Uplink, which has been the standard in hacking games, and even we suggested that the game was going to be great in our Preview of the game. After finishing the title, we have to conclude that the game was great. You start the game with a short opening message from a missing hacker named Bit. He has disappeared. Using some pre-programmed routines, his digital ghost runs you through a basic tutorial on using the Hacknet Operating System. It turns out that the HacknetOS is a very versatile and powerful penetration testing tool that is only made more powerful by programs that you, as the player, find throughout the game and supplied to you by other hackers. The main point of the game isn't just to hack everything and anything, although you can do just that, it is primarily focused on building your own reputation within various hacking communities in order to eventually investigate and solve the mystery behind the disappearance of Bit. While the storyline might seem pretty simple, the game isn't so much about the story itself, but more about how it reflects on you as a player. It's strange to say this about a story-lite game, but it's a very personal experience playing through Hacknet. While you're taking hacking contracts out for these organisations, you always have in your mind that you're doing this to save someone. To find out exactly what's happened to them. Your own actions leading up to the conclusion make the games ending that much more satisfying than a game where you engage with the story through large swathes of text. It's not like you're playing as a character saving someone, it feels as though it is actually you reaching that conclusion yourself. I don't think that I have ever felt so satisfied completing a game before. The gameplay in Hacknet is pretty simple for anyone that has used a Command-Line Interface on a computer before. Although, included with the Hacknet Operating System is a Graphical User Interface which does make things a bit easier, but it may not also be there forever. For example, if you get counter-hacked by a hacker and they wipe your server files, you're out of luck if you haven't worked out how the CLi works yet. Although, that shouldn't be a problem if you paid even half-attention during the tutorials and can read the errors that your OS is telling you. But checking the Steam forums (spoilers, avoid if you haven't already played the game, come back for laughs later), you can see that people really don't pay much attention, which is a vital skill in Hacknet, and hacking in general. So basically, as the player, you'll be connecting to various computers by navigating to their addresses through the nmap GUI, or by using the connect command in the games terminal. After that, you'll probably want to find some open ports to exploit and gain access into the target machine with. By using the probe command, you can see all of the computers exploitable ports, and as long as you have a program that can exploit those ports, you can hack your way in. The most powerful tool in the game is the Porthack command, which is pretty much a rootkit. It lodges itself into a machines memory and provides the hacker with root (read Superuser/admin) priviliges. However, for some computers, even Porthack wont work against them. You might need to break into someones eOS phone and steal their passwords, for example. hacknet-colonels-food-corner I really liked how the game is simple to approach, but the difficulty is in the puzzle itself. Breaking into computers is easy enough to do from the outset. But what do you do if you need to access a certain persons emails? What do you do if you need to alter some records? What do you do if you need to hack someones phone and simply forget that you have program that can do that for you? How do you fix your server if someone hacks you and screws it up? What about hacking your ISP for a new IP address? These are some puzzles that can seem easy just looking at them, but these individual components can sometimes be parts of a larger puzzle, testing your knowledge of networking systems and the tools at your disposal. I was pretty satisfied with the puzzle aspect of Hacknet. Included in the game to find and laugh at are a bunch of logs and real world references that will just make you laugh. I remember laughing hard at breaking into the fictional CFC servers (a play on KFC) and laughing pretty hard for a while. The mission, of course, was to find the 11 secret herbs and spices. There is also a hacker group that uses an 8chan-like interface for their message board. There're also more subtle correlations, like Macrosoft to Microsoft. Digging through file systems and the like can also net you some hilarious stories and things. Definitely go exploring through any system you encounter. I was quite impressed with the soundtrack in Hacknet. It's filled with electronic music that really gives you this super-hacker feeling. If you're not a fan of electronic music, you might not like the soundtrack, but it's a hard call to say that the soundtrack isn't at all fitting. It is a maximum fit for the game. Also, I'm pretty sure they're all licensed tracks too, so you know they're professional. Visually, Hacknet is a pretty simple game. The entire thing is really you looking at the operating system. To the left (on most skins) are your active programs, to the bottom is your nmap, and to the right is your CLI terminal. The center of your screen is your GUI, which shows what you're looking at and is often controllable with the mouse. Usually, this will be a webpage, the probe screen showing the crackable ports, or the systems filesystem. However, the GUI may not always be available to you, so learn the CLI! I also liked that you could unlock new colour schemes and skins for your terminal. Initially, to switch through them, you would need to obtain the correct files and rename them to be the active file, but you also get a program later called ThemeChanger which does it automatically. I quite liked the Purple theme. Overall, Hacknet is one of the most enjoyable puzzle games that I have played in a long time. I was so satisfied reaching the end that I kind of just sat there with a stupid look on my face for like 20 minutes while I tried to work out what to do with my life. The hacking element is pretty solid, if only a bit simplified in comparison to real life, the detective work is pretty fun, but ultimately, it's the feeling of you as the player impacting the story that made Hacknet great. A great concept and a great game. Rating: 1337.1337.1337.1337/ 10 -- Hacknet is developed by Team Fractal Alligator and released by Surprise Attack Games here in Australia. It is currently ~$10 (though it is currently on sale for ~$8) on Steam. This review is based on the full release with a review code supplied by the publisher. The author is a student in Information Technology with a focus in Security. Check out our preview for more information.
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